School Voucher Backers Rip Evers Plan to Freeze Programs

February 26, 2019

Assembly and Senate Republican leaders say they’ll oppose a plan by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to freeze enrollment in the state’s school voucher programs, whose supporters spend millions of dollars to elect state GOP candidates.

Evers also said Monday that his plan, which will be part of his proposed 2019-21 state budget, would suspend the creation of independent charter schools through 2023.

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, of Rochester, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, said the school voucher changes would not be approved by Republicans. Republicans control the Assembly 63-35 and the Senate 19-14. The legislature will consider and amend Evers proposed budget in the coming months and then send it back to the governor for final approval.

School vouchers are generally supported by Republicans as an alternative to state-funded public schools. Most Democrats claim voucher programs are ineffective, unaccountable, and reduce resources for public education.

Special interest outside election spending by the pro-voucher American Federation for Children, which was founded by President Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, totaled $7.5 million between January 2010 and December 2018. The group mostly supported Republican legislative and statewide candidates.

In addition to outside election spending, about four dozen school voucher backers contributed about $2.3 million between January 2010 and December 2017 to mostly GOP legislative and statewide candidates in Wisconsin. The top contributors include:

Robert and Patricia Kern, of Waukesha, founders of Generac Corp., $303,090;

Foster Friess, of Jackson, Wyo., owner of Friess Associates, and his wife, Lynn, $163,200;

Dennis Kuester, of Naples, Fla., a retired M&I Bank chairman, and his wife, Sandy, $154,400;

Roger Hertog, a retired New York City financier, $125,000;

Bruce Kovner, a New York City hedge fund founder, and his wife, Suzie, $120,000;

Top recipients of pro-voucher cash between January 2010 and December 2017 were former Republican Gov. Scott Walker, more than $1.3 million; GOP Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, about $109,900; and the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $65,150.

Fitzgerald has received $22,200 and Vos has accepted $1,500 in contributions from voucher backers.

The Racine, Milwaukee and statewide school voucher programs allow about 38,000 pupils to attend private and religious schools at taxpayer expense. The voucher programs reduce state funding to school districts when students leave to attend private voucher schools.

State spending on the three voucher programs totaled $1.2 billion between 2011 and 2017.